St. John’s Wort is fading, giving way to Goldenrod. In the early mornings, Bears gorge on Blueberries in the fields up the road, while in the forest the Blueberry’s strange Otherworldly cousin, Ghost Pipe, blooms, and across the ocean in my ancestral homeland the hillsides are purple with Heather. Soon the Rowan will be laden with berries, both here and there.

As summer dies slowly into autumn, the bright half of the year giving way to the dark, I mark the old holiday of Lughnassadh, festival of the first harvest. The festival takes its name from Lugh, the ancient warrior and magician who, with one well aimed stone, freed the land from the rule of a tyrant whose gaze corrupted all he looked upon.

The story of Lugh, his nature, and his presence have much to offer us in these strange and terrible times.

The mythic histories tell us that at one time all of Ireland’s native people left for distant lands.

Some went South to the islands north of Greece and, after a few centuries, returned to farm the land. They became the Fir Bolg, the Men of the Bag.

Others went to the far North, where, according to a passage from an old Irish book, translated by the late animist philosopher, John Moriarty, they:

“spent their time acquiring visionary insight and foresight and hindsight, acquiring the occult knowledge and the occult arts of the wizard, the druid, the witch, these, together with all the magical arts, until, masters in everything concerning them, they had no equals in the world.” They gained the knowledge that made them as gods, and when they were ready, they sailed home in flying ships carried by an gaoth aduaidh dubh, the Black North Wind. As their ships landed, the Hawthorn bloomed. They are remembered now as the Tuath Dé, the Tribe of the Gods. They sought to harmonize all things. As Moriarty himself writes, “they were of one mind with the wind and the rain.”

The ways of the Fir Bolg, who had learned to clear forests and farm the land, were at odds with the ways of the Tuath Dé, and the two tribes battled each other. While they warred, invaders came.

The Formorians, who came from the great ancient cities of North Africa, came as colonizers, seeking to conquer and assimilate both the Fir Bolg and the Tuath Dé. Possessed, as they were, by a hungry, colonizing spirit, they were, Moriarty wrote,

“spectral [ . . . ] They were spectral not because they didn’t originally have bodies. Spirit gone bad in them had sucked and aggrandized their bodies into its hectic hunger for supremacy over all things.”

That spirit was concentrated in the being and body of their chieftain, Balar of the Baleful Eye, whose gaze corrupted all that it fell upon.

Irish scholar Dáithí Ó hÓgáin wote:

"He had a single eye in his forehead, a venomous fiery eye. There were always seven coverings over this eye. One by one Balar removed the coverings. With the first covering the bracken began to wither, with the second the grass became copper-coloured, with the third the woods and timber began to heat, with the fourth smoke came from the trees, with the fifth everything grew red, with the sixth it sparked. With the seventh, they were all set on fire, and the whole countryside was ablaze!”

Coming, as they did, in a time when the people of Ireland were at war, the Fomorians took advantage of the chaos. They let the Tuath Dé and the Fir Bolg fight each other for a while. With the help of the half-Fomorian warrior, Breas, Nuada, King of the Tuath Dé, who was married to the river that mirrors the Milky Way, led his people to victory, and sent the Fir Bolg into a rocky province already stripped of trees. In the battle, Nuada lost his hand, and thus his ability to rule. Breas became King, and a cruel and corrupt King he was. Seumas MacManus writes in The Story of the Irish Race:

“He incensed his people by indulging his kin, the Fomorians, in their depredations. And he was finally deposed for this and for another cause that throws light upon one of the most noted characteristics of the people of Eire, ancient and modern. Breas proved himself that meanest of all men, a king ungenerous and inhospitable – lacking open heart and open hand – ‘The knives of his people’ it was complained ‘were not greased at his table[ . . .]’”

[I will let my readers draw their own contemporary parallels.]

Breas was brought down by a withering satire composed by a poet who had been denied proper hospitality -- such was the way of the Tuath Dé, passed on to the Gaels when they came centuries later, a poet could move the mind of the people and without the people’s support, a King could not rule. The disgraced King fled to the Hebrides to join Balar in preparing to wage war against the Tuath Dé.

When Nuada lost his arm, the great physician Dian Cecht fashioned him an arm of silver. The skill of Dian Cecht’s son, Miach, exceded that of his father, and seven years later, Miach was able to help Nuada grow a new fleshly hand, and when Breas fled, Nuada became King again. And to the court of Nuada, came a stranger who earned his place in a court that required each person to be a master of a unique skill by proving that he alone had mastered every skill. That stranger was Lugh, and he was born to slay Balar.

Prophecy said that Balar would be slain by his own grandson, so Balar locked his daughter, Eithne in a tower. But Miach’s brother, Cian, found his way into the tower and made love with Eithne and they conceived triplets.

When they were born, the triplets were thrown into the sea. Two of them drowned and became Seals. Some say the Selkies are their descendants. But one of them – Lugh – was rescued and brought ashore by Mannanán mac Lir, son of the Great Ocean of Time and Space, who raised him and trained him in magical and martial arts, and sent him to Nuada’s court that he might help to liberate and restore the land.

The Tuath Dé met the Fomorians in battle on the same plain where they once fought the Fir Bolg.

Lugh had crafted a sling from a Yew tree, the tree that holds the knowledge and memory of the land, and strung it with the rainbow. He anointed a stone with the blood of sacred beasts.

When Balar’s eye opened to send it curs onto the Tuath Dé, Lugh shot the stone and blinded Balar, sending the curse back upon the Fomorians.

Nuada died in battle, and Lugh became King and rained for forty years. The forests returned and the land became green again.

Long after the death of Lugh, the Tuath Dé were driven from this world by another wave of invaders, the Gaelic speaking people from Spain called the Milesians. They went beneath the Hollow Hills, the ancient burial mounds of the island’s first people, and became the Daoine Sidhe, the people the English would call faeries.

Moriarty contends that in their absence, the Fomorians returned, and the world right now bears evidence of that in ways at once too horrific and too common and too familiar to describe.

Lugh’s name comes from a very old word for an oath, which points to the truth I come back to again and again: that, as the tales of the ancient Sacred Kings reveal, true sovereignty is found only in wedding the land and vowing to devote your life to its life. In that humility and the audaciousness of that act we align our own deep, true Will with the Will of life itself, and our lives begin to flow like the waters from the Otherworld Well, infused with the memory of the trees that drew the water from below the earth, the soil it flowed through, the rocks it flowed over, and the water itself, understanding our unity with all things.

The cursed gaze that corrupts and commodifies the world is ended by a weapon forged of memory and of beauty, the Yew and the rainbow, and a stone that is a part of the body of the Earth. In its wake, the world is made sacred again by our attention and our intention.

We cannot allow the Baleful Eye to continue to corrupt the world. Like Lugh, we must wed ourselves to life itself, and defend what is sacred with honor and skill.

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